Ulster will have to beware Stade Francais’s drop-goal threat if they are to land a shock victory in the Heineken Cup opener on Saturday, according to coach Matt Williams.
A notable feature of the Paris club’s blitzkreig start to the French Top 14 Championship has been Ewen McKenzie’s side’s abiility to knock over drop-goals from all over the pitch, with Argentine star Juan Martin Hernandez and French star Lionel Beauxis.
Hernandez (2) and Beauxis both landed monster drop-goals in Stade’s 32-25 win over Bourgoin at Stade de Alps. And Williams admits it is a facet of the visitors’ game that Ulster will have to pay serious attention to at Ravenhill on Saturday (kick-off 3.30pm).
“Hernandez and Beauxis have a frightening skill levels,” said Williams.
“The drop-goals they kicked against Bourgoin were sensational and one of them had a crack from 65 metres and although it just narrowly missed, it had the legs. It was not far off.
“The one Hernandez kicked from 45 metres went over the dead ball line on the full. It is just extraordinary skill.
“The last time I saw guys kick like that was Hugo Porto when I was a kid. They are an extraordinary team.”
McKenzie however does have injury worries to contend with. Winger Mark Gasnier and halfback Alexandre Albouy both limped out of Stade’s 34-16 win over Montauban on Saturday.
Both players now face a fitness battle to recover in time for Saturday.
Rugby league convert Gasnier, making his home debut in the Top 14 championship, suffered an ankle injury trying to catch an up-and-under while Albouy picked up a knee injury. He limped off after six minutes to be replaced by Noel Oelschig.
Ulster meanwhile, apart from long-term injury victim Simon Danielli, should have a full hand to pick from with Paddy Wallace expected to be fit again having missed the last three games with a hamstring injury.
Williams will have a tough call to make in the midfield as both Paul Steinmetz and Darren Cave were very solid defensively as the province for the first time this season missed less than 10 tackles and conceded less than 10 penalties in the victory over Edinburgh.
Goal-kicking is also an area of concern as Clinton Schifcofske missed three out of six kicks. Niall O’Connor, Steinmetz and Ian Humphreys are alternatives. “Clinton is very tense when he is kicking and he still has that ankle injury from the Cardiff game,” added Williams.